Politics Opinion

Australia needs an ICAC, but also mandatory gaol sentences

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Many of our top politicians have been getting away with corrupt acts unscathed (Image by Dan Jensen)

Without severe penalties, political corruption in Australia will continue to flourish, writes Alan Austin.

FRANCE’S highly-decorated former President Nicolas Sarkozy starts his gaol sentence on corruption charges any day now. Sarkozy was a senior Minister under Presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac before becoming President himself in 2007.

He was convicted in March this year of illicit campaign funding and sentenced to three years in prison with two suspended. He will serve the year in home detention.

France is one of many countries that has found custodial sentences essential in curbing political corruption.

ICAC shaming is not enough

Corruption in Australia is far rifer than in France and the wealth grifted is much greater. Australia urgently needs a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), replicating the ICAC in New South Wales, Victoria’s IBAC and similar bodies in other states.

The lesson from abroad is that while a Federal ICAC is essential, it will be of little use unless the courts impose stiff penalties.

New South Wales is an example. ICAC investigations over the decades have caused a large number of public servants, many local government councillors, several ministers and three premiers to resign in shame. But that has not slowed corruption. Nowhere near.

Experience abroad

On conviction of accepting bribes in 1977, U.S. Representative Andrew Hinshaw served a year behind bars. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz was sentenced to 30 days gaol plus five years probation in 1978 for evading $148,000 in taxes. Convicted of mail fraud and running a kickback scheme in 1978, U.S. Representative Charles Diggs spent three years in prison.

U.S. Representative Frank Clark copped two years imprisonment for mail fraud and tax evasion in 1979. Representative for Texas Albert Bustamante was convicted in 1993 of bribery and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in gaol. Representative Frank Ballance spent served four years for money laundering and mail fraud, beginning in 2005.

In Canada, Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro spent a month in prison in 2015 for breaking election spending laws.

In Britain, Jeffrey Archer had been Mayor of London and was a life peer when he was gaoled for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 2001. This ended his political career.

Israel’s Prime Minister from 2006 to 2009, Ehud Olmert, served 16 months in prison for bribery and obstructing justice while Mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s and later as Trade Minister.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was charged in January 2020 with allegedly accepting illegal favours from businessmen, including Australia’s James Packer, and allegedly making a deal with a newspaper group to legislate to weaken their competitors in exchange for favourable coverage of Netanyahu. Sound familiar?

The trials are continuing. If convicted, Netanyahu faces up to 13 years in prison.

In India, several high ranking politicians have been imprisoned for corruption and other crimes, as summarised here and here.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma was gaoled for 15 months last July for contempt of court. He had refused to testify at a commission of inquiry into corruption while he was President. The 79-year-old Zuma was granted medical parole after serving two months.

In France, clear frontrunner in the 2017 Presidential Election was François Fillon, leader of the main centre-right political Party, Les Républicains. With just 40 days to go, the urbane former Prime Minister was charged with fixing fake jobs for his wife and children who had pocketed close to a million euros (AU$1.56 million) and was forced out of the contest. He was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to five years gaol, with three suspended. His appeal will be heard next month, after which he will likely serve the two years.

These gaolings – all highly publicised – have had a powerful educative impact, at least in the jurisdiction in which they occurred.

Extent of corruption in Australia

Corruption in Australia’s Federal Government over recent years is far worse than in any of the above countries — both in the proportion of ministers with adverse findings against them and the quantum of money rorted.

A former Federal Minister recently received a gift of around a million dollars but will not reveal the donor’s identity. He is still in Parliament.

The current Government has handed huge sums to News Corporation and other media companies for no satisfactory reason. Vast amounts have been lost in dodgy land and water deals — including $80 million spent on worthless floodwater rights which ended up with a Cayman Islands company established by a current minister.

Even worse was the waste of multiple tens of billions of dollars in the recent JobKeeper rorts whereby large corporations, private schools and at least one rich Pentecostal church helped themselves to money they were not entitled to — no questions asked. The losses incurred over the Coalition Government’s bungled submarine contracts could be even higher than that. It’s too early to tell.

The Coalition has already added $579 billion to the nation’s gross debt — almost three times Labor’s borrowings during the Global Financial Crisis. Up to half that is the result of the Coalition refusing to collect company and top-end income taxes from its mates.

The Chaser has published a list of 124 actions it describes as ‘Liberal Party’s corruption over the last seven years’. A footnote states this dossier is part of a full list of 902 instances, published here.

If Australians accept that it’s fair enough to gaol two Melbourne men for creating fake documents to sneak into the AFL Grand Final, they should firmly insist that politicians who have cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars should also end up behind bars.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and support the crowd-funding hereAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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